06/11/04 — Princeton's state title matchup a true David vs. Goliath

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Princeton's state title matchup a true David vs. Goliath

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 11, 2004 2:48 PM

PRINCETON -- An unexpected guest?


Princeton's run to the eastern regional baseball title undoubtedly turned a few heads and shocked some critics who had originally questioned whether the team could survive in the postseason. Skepticism surfaced again when the Bulldogs drew state-ranked Pamlico County as their opening-round playoff opponent.

The No. 3 seed from its conference, Princeton seemed assured of an early postseason exit. It's a good thing someone forgot to tell the Bulldogs they weren't supposed to win that game.

"We were supposed to be out after the first round," catcher Dustin Myers said. "Then we beat Pamlico and we realized that we can play with anybody. Everything started picking up."

Contests in the physically-competitive Class 1-A Carolina Conference toughened Princeton and strengthened its confidence for that playoff opener. Those games also prepared the Bulldogs for their next two opponents -- 2003 state runner-up Ayden-Grifton and Spring Creek.

Myers and his teammates staged come-from-behind rallies to win those games and continued turning the North Carolina prep baseball world on its collective ear. The Bulldogs swept Williamston 2-0 in the best-of-three eastern regional series and found themselves one step closer to turning their preseason fantasy into reality.

Princeton continues its magical journey Saturday morning at Five County Stadium in Zebulon. The Bulldogs (19-8) oppose two-time defending state title-holder South Stokes (28-3) in the best-of-three N.C. High School Athletic Association championship series.

The first pitch is scheduled for 11 a.m. Game two takes place later in the day at 7 p.m. A third game, if necessary, is slated for 4 p.m. Sunday.

"I'm tickled to death," Princeton coach Bruce Proctor said. "These guys all year long have played hard in a tough conference and I think, honestly, that has helped us -- no doubt in my mind.

"We had to fight our way back through the conference to get here."

A solid combination of hitting, pitching and defense has carried Princeton to this point. They made a few mental and physical mistakes in game two against Williamston, but they also adjusted well and emerged victorious in their only home playoff game this season.

Proctor couldn't translate into words how proud and pleased he is with his team's effort. But he admitted that the players' refusal to quit when they're behind is probably the team's best attribute.

"They're just good kids and gosh, they just don't give up," Proctor said.

The ability to overcome adversity has definitely bolstered the team's confidence. However, the postseason has also turned into a "coming out" party for right-handed pitcher Josh Thompson. The junior has three playoff victories and a save.

He threw 122 pitches in game two against Williamston. That performance amplified the hard-nosed and blue-collar effort that the Bulldogs have given all season long.

"He's been the man, not just on the mound," Proctor said. "He's had a 'coming out' party at the right time. We're glad that he's doing it and everybody is behind him."

Thompson is 5-1 with an earned run average (ERA) of 3.20 in 501Ú3 innings on the mound. He is hitting a crisp .583 in the playoffs and is one of four players averaging better than .300 at the plate.

Princeton won 1-A championships in 1992 and 1994 with Kenny Meekins as head coach. The 1993 team lost in the state-title game and the 1995 squad fell to Williamston in the east regional final.

Is another title on its way back to Johnston County?

"(Our confidence) level has improved a lot," Myers said. "Everybody is realizing what we can do and now we're here for the first time in ten years.

"We're proud to be here, but we haven't forgotten where we've come from."